CIHR and MSFHR funds research on chronic stress-induced cognitive impairment

haley_vecchiarelliDr. Haley Vecchiarelli, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Marie-Ève Tremblay’s lab, received a 2020 MSFHR Research Trainee Award earlier this week. The award is will be used alongside Vecchiarelli’s 2019 CIHR Postdoctoral Fellowship to fund her postdoc project, which focuses on how chronic stress influences the brain’s immune cells to cause cognitive impairment.  

Chronic stress is associated with cognitive impairment. “It is possible that this is due to the brain's immune cells, microglia,” says Vecchiarelli. “Microglia can engulf and chew up neurons, which are the cells in the brain that talk to one another. It is possible that chronic stress makes these immune cells more likely to engulf neurons, which leads to cognitive deficits.”

To understand this process, Vecchiarelli will use in-vivo 2-photon imaging and electron microscopy to look at how microglia act in the brain of chronically stressed subjects. She will then see if treatments that can reverse chronic stress–induced cognitive deficits—such as probiotics, cannabinoids, omega-3 supplementation, or ketogenic diet—work by altering these brain immune cells. Together, these data will better inform how chronic stress leads to alterations in cognition and may provide a new target for therapeutics of cognitive deficits observed in stress-associated conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders.

Aside from her MSFHR Research Trainee Award and CIHR Postdoctoral Fellowship, Vecchiarelli held during her PhD a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Killam Predoctoral Studentship, Alberta Innovates Graduate Award and BranchOut Neurological Foundation PhD Award, and numerous travel and community awards.